Hypothetical Me: Big Spender, or Struggling Everyman?

Last post, I made an example out of hypothetical me, who apparently uses up all his hard earned monthly pay on things. But does he really spend frivolously, or is he living nyawa-nyawa ikan? Let’s break down his cost of living in Brunei.

Note: because I took one year of business studies in a college and learnt about this theory during that period, I’m going to do this by working down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Actual psychologists, feel free to tell me how wrongly I am misusing this.

Let’s start with the absolute basic of life: food and drink. Hypothetical me isn’t much of a cook. (Neither is actual me, but that’s beside the point). Assuming he eats out every day,the average cost of a cheap lunch and dinner is $10 a day. Fortunately, this guy doesn’t care much for coffee, which can add another $5-$10 per weekday. The total for a 30-day month comes out to $300 spent on food.

Even with eating out, he still needs to spend some money on groceries. Fruits, eggs, and bread for breakfast, and other essentials like cooking oil, can frugally cost around $30. Personal grooming and household cleaning supplies bring the monthly expenditure up to $50.

With the increasingly higher cost of housing in Brunei, this working me was lucky enough to be a recipient of the national housing scheme. For reference, the cost of a terrace, the cheapest category of house from the scheme, was put as $43,000, and can be paid across 30 years sans interest. That breaks down to around $120 per month.

Now of course, you can’t have a house without things to put in it, like furniture, lighting and other essentials. I mean, you can, but it’ll be a pretty empty house. Assuming all the items are paid for, he still needs electricity to run his lights, fans, air-conditioning, refrigerator, washing machine and television, and not to mention charge his phone and laptop. If he manages to keep it running under 500 kilowatt hours (kWh), he just needs to pay a measly $5 per month, but above that figure up to 1000 kWh (which he is most likely to end up using) he will need to top-up $55 per month.

To summarise so far, the cost of just staying alive and sheltered is $525. That’s already more than half of his monthly take-home pay of $915 per month.

The Brunei government is making renewed strides in improving public transport, and have promised to overhaul the public bus service by mid-2017. Until then, hypothetical me has to drive to work and other places, and for that he needs a car. According to the super useful list of car prices provided by the Department of Economic Planning and Development, the cheapest vehicle he can get right now is the Geely LC Panda GS, which costs around $10,600, or– and I checked– $147 per month with 7 years financing.

Of course, he needs fuel to power the car, and some people have calculated that the average Bruneian spends around $150 per month on petrol. I’ve talked to other people who have said that they spend that much, but even then that figure seems a bit high to me, and my informal survey through Twitter seems to peg the lowest monthly at around $40, so with the assumption of the daily weekday commute to and from work and few after-work drives, this guy can probably survive spending around $70 per month.

Of course, he’s not all work and no play. He chats and watches videos, plays some occasional Pokémon Go, and almost all of this is done through his phone. The cheapest postpaid plan on DST is $20, which offers 500 MB of data and 200 minutes of calls, while Progresif offers a more generous 2 GB and 300 minutes for $5 more. With WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and other data-hungry apps, the $25 monthly option seems to be the way to go without breaking the bank with data add-ons.

As you can see, I’ve made some of the most conservative estimates for living a single, self-sufficient life. Reality is a bit tipsy and doesn’t quite walk a straight line, with many more variable expenses to consider, like the continuous maintenance of the house and car, various fees from something as mundane as paid parking to the renewal of your Smart Identity Card ($15, by the way) or annual car insurance (a bit more), to even things to improve your well-being like buying clothes and watching movies. The total of the breakdown comes up to $767, which leaves only $148 to use or save (until the car is fully paid off).

To summarise: hypothetical me is not living the high life.

Extra homework

To further refine the calculation from the previous post about how long he can survive post-work: assuming he manages to save $100 per month for 23 years, he’ll end up with $27,600 at the end of his working life. Further assuming he spends the same amount ($620) after retirement, and averaging the amount of TAP money he’ll receive (i.e. averaging between no dividends and 5% yearly, or about $58,000), and that after 60 he receives the full amount of SCP ($150) as well as the old age pension ($250), he will only manage to live his current lifestyle until he is 67. It’s a little bit better than the previous estimates, and even after 67 he will still have his $400 to fall back on. So it’s not all bad, provided he changes his lifestyle a little bit after retirement.

Optional Expenses

The expenses below were originally included in the above calculations as a more realistic reflection of how some Bruneians spend their monthly income. I removed it as I realised that even if they were ubiquitous, they weren’t really a necessity.

Most Brunei houses have a Kristal Astro satellite TV subscription, because how else do you catch up with Suri Hati Mr. Pilot? The cheapest package sets you back at least $25 per month.

The cheapest broadband price TelBru currently offers is $25, with a speed of 1 Mbps and data quota cap of 25 GB. However, this doesn’t include the fixed telephone line, which costs $13, bringing up the total cost to $38 monthly.

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